Worried about the future? Your career prospects? The stock market? Collapsing social order? The NHL’s inexplicable southward gaze? Well, here’s the thing about that: poor sleep patterns may be contributing to that anxiety, and if you’re an innate worrier, you’re especially vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation.
For a long time, sleep deprivation has been known to amplify the part of the brain associated with emotional possessing, mimicking the effects of anxiety disorders. However, a new study from the Journal of Neuroscience is the first to demonstrate that sleep deprivation can cause anticipatory anxiety.
Participants had their brains scanned and then sat for a forty-five minute session where they were shown a series of images. The images were either neutral (say, a field) or disturbing (for example, a murder). Prior to each image, participants were shown a visual cue. A large red subtraction sign indicated an upcoming disturbing image, a yellow circle indicated a neutral image, and a question mark offered no indication. Unsurprisingly, this image was the most stressful.
Participants then repeated the tests, after a solid night’s sleep in the lab, and after a poor night’s sleep. After a poor night’s sleep, participants stress responses were amplified—especially amongst participants anxious to begin with.
Partly, this is because sleep deprivation causes memory formation to be predisposed to focusing on the negative. This causes more anxiety in anticipation of bad things and a magnified anxiety response. Emotional control is decreased.
So, what’s a man to do? Make good sleep a priority. Banish electronics from the bedroom, invest in a mattress that’s right for you, and cut down on the caffeine before bed. If none of that works, schedule a doctor’s appointment, because a bad night’s sleep is a stupid reason to lose emotional control.